Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent – March 12, 2023

CLICK HERE for a worship video for March 12

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent – March 12, 2023

John 4:5-42

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nutritionists will tell you that most Americans don’t drink enough water. This is significant because dehydration can impact many different areas of your life. Water helps you digest your food. Water helps your joints stay properly lubricated. Water regulates your body chemistry and your body temperature.

Not getting enough water doesn’t just impact a person physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Even very mild dehydration can lead to crankiness, anxiety, poor memory, or feeling tired.

Water is literally life-giving. It trickles through every part of our lives, and when we don’t have enough, it can impact every part of our lives. To fend off dehydration, our body sends us a signal telling us to reach for something to drink. We become thirsty.

It was thirst that brought together Jesus and the Samaritan woman who met him at the well. It was about noon, St. John tells us – the hottest part of the day. Jesus had been traveling on his way back to Galilee from Judea. He was thirsty, and so he made a pit stop in Sychar and stopped at Jacob’s well. The disciples went into town for food while Jesus lingered at the well. When a woman of Samaria came to the well with a bucket in hand, Jesus asked her for a drink.

We need to pause for a moment here to note just how unusual and awkward this scene was. First of all, it was taboo in both Jewish and Samaritan culture for two strangers of the opposite sex to be alone together. We hear the disciples freaking out about this a little later in the story. What is sometimes mocked today as “the Billy Graham rule” was the accepted cultural norm for both Jews and Samaritans.

That’s about the only thing these two cultures agreed on, however. St. John notes how Jews didn’t share things in common with Samaritans. Samaritans were regarded as unclean. They were despised by most Jews. There’s a whole lot of history behind this. In a nutshell, Samaritans were seen as traitors to the Jewish people because they had intermarried with the Assyrians. Even worse, they were seen as idolaters because they had adopted many of the Assyrian religious practices, twisting Bible passages to fit their new situation and justify it all. The Samaritans had their temple on Mount Gerizim while the Jews had theirs on the temple mount in Jerusalem, and never the twain shall meet.

So, for all kinds of reasons, it was highly unusual and awkward for a Jewish rabbi and a Samaritan woman to be alone and chatting it up at the water cooler! But thirst had brought them together. There was an inner need for both of them to be there.

Jesus seems to have been drawn there, and not only for the purpose of making a pit stop on his way back to Galilee. You see, Jesus wasn’t traveling the normal route Jews took when going from Judea to Galilee. The more common route included a detour around Samaria so they could avoid these awkward encounters with their despised enemies.

But Jesus seems to have been drawn there by some inner need. He seems to have been thirsty for more than just water from Jacob’s well. He seems to have been drawn to this well to bring his saving love even to this place, even to Samaritans.

The woman was drawn there by her own thirst. She came there with her bucket to bring up the water which would quench her bodily thirst, but as her conversation with Jesus unfolded it quickly became clear that her dehydration was impacting every aspect of her life. It doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to see that she was thirsty for more than water.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” “Sir,” she replied, “Give me this water, that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She was still thinking about literal water. She was still thinking about her parched throat. But Jesus would put his finger on her deeper thirst.

“Go, call your husband and come back,” Jesus said to her. “I have no husband,” she replied. “You are right in saying you have no husband,” Jesus continued, “for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” Jesus sure can be blunt, can’t he?

It is hard to know the circumstances around why this woman would have had five husbands. Mortality rates were much higher in those days, so it is possible she had been widowed that many times. Men could initiate a divorce for just about any reason, and often did, so it is at least possible that she had been abandoned that many times. We don’t know for sure if she had her own moral failings which led to the breaking of one or more of these covenants, but there is at least a whiff of scandal hanging over her.

First, Jesus notes that the man she has now is not her husband. There is a strong implication here that she is participating in the intimacies of marriage without the promises of marriage. No matter how common this might be – then or today – it is sin. It is a violation of the sixth commandment. She seems to have been a willing participant in this.

Then later she tells the crowd that Jesus told her everything she has ever done. This sounds an awful lot like a confession. We shouldn’t take away the agency she claims for herself by hastily painting her as a victim. She herself seems to acknowledge that she has done things for which she is not proud.

Is this why she came to the well in the middle of the day? Historians tell us that water was typically hauled in the morning and in the evening when it was cooler. In fact, it was a gathering time for the women of the village who would do this chore together, socializing as they did so. This woman came at Noon. She came alone. She wasn’t part of the community. She wasn’t included in the socializing. Maybe she was ostracized by those other women because of her checkered past. Maybe she wasn’t welcome among them because she was currently involved with a man who was not her husband. Maybe she was avoiding their sideways glances and glares. Maybe she was ashamed.

And so there was a deeper thirst in her, wasn’t there? There was a thirst for forgiveness, even if she didn’t recognize it yet. There was a thirst for restoration, a thirst for community. There was thirst for something better, for a new life.

She didn’t want to go there in the conversation. She quickly changed the subject to theology. But as that part of the conversation unfolded, she learned that Jesus was the one who had come to fill these deeper thirsts. He had come to make it possible for people to worship God in Spirit and in truth. When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus told her outright that that’s who he is! While Jesus was so secretive about it in other places, here he outright tells her he is the Messiah! “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

When she hears this, she leaves her bucket lying on the ground and goes back to the city. She goes to the very people she was avoiding, saying to them, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” As the story ends, we are told that many came to believe because of her testimony. She is part of them once again, as together they came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is truly the Savior of the world.

There is a thirst that draws us here today. It is not a thirst in our mouths or our throats. It is a thirst in our hearts, a thirst in our souls. Whether we recognize it all the time or not, we thirst for forgiveness. We thirst for restoration, and for community. We thirst for a new life.

When we become spiritually dehydrated, it impacts every aspect of our lives: our brains and our bodies, our moods and our mental health. It impacts our relationships, our families, our marriages. It impacts our ability to live in community with others. It impacts whether we have hope in our lives, whether we have peace.

It is that thirst that draws us here today.

Our Lord Jesus has a thirst too. He is drawn to those who are thirsty for the living water he alone can give. He has a thirst for you. He has gone out of his way to cross paths with you, to meet you at the well. He is not deterred by sin or scandal. There is nothing about you he doesn’t already know. In fact, that is why he has come, to quench your thirst for forgiveness, your thirst for restoration, your thirst for community. He has come to give you a new life, a life welling up with a hope and a peace and a love that begins to flow into every part of our lives.  The water he gives becomes in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

This water Jesus gives also wets our lips, making them ready and eager to tell others what we have experienced here. We too can set down our buckets, fully hydrated by Christ’s gifts, and go out to tell others about the One who knows everything we have ever done and doesn’t turn away from us, but instead reveals himself to us as Messiah and Savior, giving us living water and a new life.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church


Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2023

CLICK HERE for a worship video for March 5

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2023

John 3:1-17

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nicodemus was in the dark. He was literally in the dark as he came to Jesus by night, but he was in the dark spiritually as well. He had a sense that there was something special about Jesus. He had seen, or at least heard about the signs Jesus was doing, and he knew that such signs couldn’t be done apart from the presence of God. But beyond that, he was in the dark. Even with all his advanced learning, even with his theological degree from Pharisee school, even with his status as a teacher of Israel, he was in the dark about the kingdom of God.

As Nicodemus struck up a conversation with Jesus, Jesus zeroed in on this right away. Jesus didn’t beat around the bush. Jesus knew Nicodemus was in the dark, and so he got right to the heart of the matter. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus said to him, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus didn’t get it. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he said. It is hard to know if Nicodemus was being sarcastic or if he’s just stubborn, but his reply suggests that what Jesus had said about being born from above was absurd to him. “You mean in order to see the kingdom of God I need to crawl back up my mother’s leg and put her through that again? Can one enter the womb a second time and be born?” Nicodemus was still in the dark.

But instead of backing down, Jesus doubled down. He said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus replied. “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Jesus said in return. Nicodemus was still in the dark.

In describing how one comes to see the kingdom of God, Jesus used the language of birth.

It has been among the greatest blessings of my life to have watched each of my three sons being born. I have never been in more awe of their mother, who pushed and pushed, bearing those contractions, sweating and squeezing my hand so hard that my fingertips turned blue.

It probably goes without saying that she did all the work. Not only did I do next to nothing, but the boys being born didn’t do anything at all! First, they spent nine months in utero, relaxing rent-free in that luxurious amniotic hot tub, with their food being delivered right into their tummies through their mother’s umbilical cord. She did all the work carrying them around everywhere while all they did was step on her bladder.

And then when it came time to be born, they didn’t do any of the work then either! They just laid there while their mother pushed and pushed and breathed and contorted her body in agony until out they came, their eyes suddenly opening to a bright new world.

All of us have experienced this in one way or another, because each of us have been born! And when we were born, our mothers did all the work! We might not remember it, but that’s how it went down. They did all the breathing, all the pushing, all the excruciating, painful work, until there we were, blinking our newly opened eyes.

This is how we come to see the kingdom of God. It is God’s work. God does all the carrying, all the pushing. The Spirit does all the breathing, all the blowing. The Son of Man does all the contorting, all the suffering, until we are delivered, until we are born into faith, until our eyes are opened to the bright new world God is ushering in through his Son, Jesus Christ.

When this birth language didn’t land with Nicodemus, Jesus tried a different tack. Jesus pointed to a story Nicodemus would have known very well as a biblically literate Pharisee. “You know, Nicodemus, how the people of Israel were all dying in the wilderness from snake bites? Remember how God told Moses to put a serpent on a pole, and that anyone who looked upon the snake would live? That’s what I’ve come to do. I’ve come from above to bring life. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

The imagery, the word picture, is different – but the idea is the same. God is doing all the work to bring life. All you need to do is open your eyes. All you need to do is look upon him whom God sent and believe in him, trust him, have faith in him, and you will have a new life that begins now and continues forever. He has already done all the work for you.

In the Large Catechism, Luther writes that the church is the mother who conceives and bears every Christian through God’s Word.

The church is indeed every Christian’s mother, and the baptismal font is the birth canal. Jesus commanded his church to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and it is through this sacrament that we are born from above. This is God’s work.

Even after we are born from above, we still sometimes find ourselves in the dark with Nicodemus. We understand there is something vaguely special about Jesus, but we lose sight of the kingdom of God. We come to difficult times, to trials in our lives that make us confused or anxious or uncertain. It is at those times that the church is the mother who reminds us of our birth, of the new life God has given us.

For years, my baptismal certificate was lost. Even more alarming, my home church in Edmonds had no record of my being baptized there. My mom and dad assured me that I was baptized. My grandmother wouldn’t have let it not happen, that’s for sure, so I was confident that I was. But there was no certificate, and no record.

Several years ago, when I was serving in another congregation, there was a season when I was in a spiritual funk. Things were a little dark. Because of certain struggles in the congregation I was serving, the kingdom of God was hard to see.

One day during this time I went out to the mailbox to pick up the mail and there was a big manilla envelope inside. The return address told me it was from my mother. I opened it up, and there was my baptismal certificate! There was also a little picture paperclipped to it of my mom and dad standing next to the baptismal font, with me cradled in my mother’s arms. It was July 18, 1971, exactly two months after I was born. My mom later explained that she found it in an old box that had been in storage for many years.

Now, it isn’t as though I needed proof that I was baptized, but I really, really needed to be reminded of it. It was a wonderful and timely and powerful moment of assurance of who and whose I am, of who I belong to. It was as though my eyes were opened once again to the kingdom of God, to the new life Christ has given me.

I’m sure you have dark times too. I’m sure you have times when the kingdom of God is hard to see. The church is here to be your mother. The church is here to bring you the word that gives you life. The church is where you are born from above through the waters of Holy Baptism. The church is here to remind you of this birth. The church is here to assure you of what God has done for you through water and the Spirit. It is in the waters of Holy Baptism that God has given you a new birth into a new life that begins now and continues forever.

God has done all the work necessary to bring you into his kingdom. God carries you and feeds you. God’s Spirit does the breath work, all the blowing. God’s Son did all the contorting, all the suffering, as he was lifted up on the cross.

In Holy Baptism, we are born from above through water and the Spirit. All there is left to do is to open our eyes. All there is left to do is to open our eyes once again to the brightness of the new day Christ has brought. All there is left to do is look upon him and live.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church



Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – February 26, 2023

CLICK HERE for a worship video for February 26

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – February 26, 2023

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The wilderness of Laos is scattered with wreckage from the Vietnam war. The dog tags of American pilots have been found in the jungle. A chunk of an airplane wing rests in the courtyard of a small Laotian village. Bone fragments have been found, DNA-tested, and repatriated to long-suffering families here in the U.S.

One of our church members went out into this wilderness in search of his father. Our friend Brian Danielson (who gave me permission to share this story) was only 18-months old when his father was shot down over Laos, and Brian has made several trips now to the Laotian wilderness. In 2006 he stood and laid flowers at the spot his father was last seen alive. A bone fragment previously recovered from the area was proven to have belonged to his dad, allowing the family to finally lay him to rest in their hometown of Kenyon, Minnesota. Brian will tell you that this wilderness journey brought tremendous healing and closure to him and his family. Brian has since been back to the Laotian wilderness with others on a similar journey of what you might call ancestral healing, sifting through the wreckage to make things right, bringing healing and peace to old and lingering wounds.

Our gospel reading from Matthew for this first Sunday in Lent takes us into the wilderness with Jesus, where he spent forty days and forty nights. Matthew wrote his gospel primarily for a Jewish audience, and if you were part of Matthew’s original audience and you heard the words “wilderness” and “forty” as the setting for a story, you would automatically have thought about Israel and the forty years they spent in the wilderness. This is a crucial backdrop for understanding what Matthew is telling us about Jesus.

The wilderness was a place of disaster for God’s people. It was a place strewn with wreckage from their past, a place where the enemy had brought them down. It was in the wilderness that the Israelites were brought down by the enemy, who exploited their hunger to bring them to despair and cause them to doubt God’s promises. It was in the wilderness that the enemy tricked the Israelites to start demanding proof from God rather than living by faith. It was in the wilderness that the enemy led the Israelites to bow the knee to false gods who promised them greater worldly power. As this spiritual battle raged, many, many Israelites perished. Their bones were literally strewn across this wilderness.

After Jesus’ baptism, he was led by the Spirit into this wilderness. He didn’t wander out there accidentally. He wasn’t going for a leisurely stroll. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. He was led there for a purpose, for a mission. He was going there to be tempted by the devil, Matthew tells us, but this was not just a boxing match out in the boonies. Jesus was going to the very place his ancestors had fallen. He was going to the wilderness to begin to make things right.

The enemy came at Jesus after he had fasted for forty days and forty nights. Jesus was famished, just as Israel had been. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil said, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus had the power to do so. It wasn’t inherently wrong for him to do so. Jesus would miraculously provide bread on other occasions in his ministry. But Jesus was righting an old wrong here. He was making things right. He wouldn’t fall to the devil’s taunt. He responded, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The enemy then tried to lure Jesus into testing God. “Throw yourself down from this mountain peak! Let God prove he will save you!” But Jesus resisted. He would live by faith, not proof. He replied, “It is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Finally, when the devil invited Jesus to fall down and worship him in exchange for worldly power, Jesus replied by saying, “Away with you, Satan!” And then he recited the first commandment: “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Do you see what is happening here? Jesus was doing battle with the devil, to be sure, but he was also revisiting old wounds, the wounds God’s people had left behind in the wilderness. Jesus was walking amongst the wreckage of the past in order to begin to bring healing.

This old wound goes back even farther than Israel. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. We heard in our first reading how their jungle paradise was turned into a wilderness after the enemy brought them down with a deception. They were tempted by the serpent to doubt God’s word and to eat of the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve were deceived by the enemy into seeking their own wisdom, deceived into attempting to be their own gods – and the wreckage of this attack has followed human history ever since.

As St Paul says in our reading from Romans for today, sin and death came into the world through one man, Adam. It has “exercised dominion” from Adam to Moses and generations since. And just as sin and death came through one man, so too does God’s grace and the free gift of his righteousness come through one man, Jesus Christ. “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all,” Paul explains, “so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” It was Jesus’ act of righteousness which would make things right once and for all.

This “act of righteousness” refers to all of Jesus’ life and ministry, of course.

It is especially referring to Christ’s death and resurrection, where sin, death, and the devil were defeated once and for all. But the beginnings of this can be seen right after his baptism, when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a journey of ancestral healing. He went to the very spot where his ancestors died, confronting the pain, overcoming the devil and his temptations, foreshadowing the victory he would eventually share with all of us.

Life in this world can sometimes feel like a walk through the wilderness – and not the leisurely kind. It can feel like a journey through the wreckage of the past. There are painful reminders of losses we’ve faced. There are tokens of old wrongs that ache to be resolved, old absences we long to fill.

Sometimes in this wilderness we find ourselves under attack. While the devil has ultimately been defeated – he has no ultimate power over us! – he still knows how to deceive. Even in his death throes, he manages to attack us with temptations. The enemy knows to come at us when we’re hungry, when we’re weak and vulnerable. The enemy continues attack our identity as God’s children by getting us to look for tangible evidence of answered prayer rather than living by faith, by simple trust in God’s promises. The enemy continues to lure us into seeking worldly power and control by worshipping false gods. The enemy continues to massage God’s word, saying, “Did God really say that?” until we’ve come up with our excuses for eating the forbidden fruit, justifying our disobedience with our turned-in-on-self logic.

We can learn from Jesus today how to withstand these attacks. Jesus models for us how important it is for us to know God’s word and to hold fast to God’s promises. He teaches us that God’s word strengthens us more than bread ever will. He teaches us that living by faith and living by proof are two different things. He teaches us that false gods and justifications will only ever get you a mouth full of rotten fruit.

These lessons are important, but they come too late to deal with the wreckage that is already part of our lives. Jesus came to do more than teach us how to survive in the wilderness. He came to bring healing and life and salvation. He was led into the wilderness on a journey of ancestral healing, to bind up the wounds that began with Adam and Eve and have continued right up to you and me. For as sin and death came through one man, so too does grace and righteousness come through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Whatever attacks you’ve endured, whatever losses you’ve grieved, whatever wounds you’ve suffered, Christ has come to bring healing to them through his saving love. He was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to begin his mission to rescue and restore us. There he showed his power over the enemy, succeeding where death once exercised dominion. He continues to meet us in the wilderness to share his victory with us, to make things right, to bring us his peace.

And one day he will bring us home at last.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

Adult Education for Lent

Adult Education for Lent

Lent is a time to be re-rooted in the fundamentals of our Christian faith. This year we’re going to do a deep dive into the Apostles’ Creed for our Lenten adult study. We meet in the church library from 9:15-10:15. This will also be our theme for our midweek Lenten services on Wednesdays. Come learn more about the words we recite in worship summarizing what we believe!